To date, 3.66% of all the land in the world used for sugar cane farming has been certified as sustainable against the standard set by sustainability organisation Bonsucro, which is working at continuing to grow sustainability certification for sugar cane worldwide.
“The 3.66% figure might seem like a small percentage, but it equates to nearly 900 000 ha and 3.7-million tonnes of certified sugar,” says Bonsucro head of engagement Natasha Schwarzbach, adding that this number is steadily growing.
Four-fifths of the world’s sugar is produced from sugar cane, and sugar cane is one of the world’s largest crops, giving it great significance in the global economy.
Schwarzbach says the current sugar cane industry is realising the importance and urgency of being sustainable. “Sustainability is not only an imperative for environmental and social reasons – it also makes business sense. Bonsucro is noticing that more companies want to ensure that their sugar cane supply chains are sustainable, as a result of the array of benefits associated with sustainability.”
The sugar cane supply chain is complex and contains a diverse range of industry players, but Schwarzbach says sustainability is a uniting force behind all industry players worldwide.
“Bonsucro is also noticing a growing number of companies and organisations, which include buyers, millers, farmers and traders, working toward sustainable sugar cane production,” she says.
Meanwhile, poor health and safety conditions of workers, the conversion of high- biodiversity land into sugar cane farms, poor yields, pollution from fertiliser and runoffs, a lack of community engagement, adverse effects on water supply and land rights issues, as well as the failure of governments to enforce laws or international conventions, are only some of the potential consequences of growing sugar cane unsustainably, says the organisation.
The Bonsucro Standard for sugar cane enables producers to tackle these issues. The impacts of growing sugar cane can vary from region to region, and Bonsucro provides a standard that can be applied in any sugar cane region.
“We believe that, by considering all the rele- vant factors, such as water use for
sugar cane farming, producers can manage their crops, their mills and the environment in a sustainable manner. The Bonsucro Standard is a metric standard, and is the only one that exists globally for sugar cane,” says Schwarzbach.
Meanwhile, sugar cane has been produced commercially for hundreds of years and, for much of its history, it has been associated with bad practices such as forced labour, child labour or slavery.
While the industry has improved since the days of forced labour, any commodity that is produced on such a large scale will encounter significant challenges.
“Social problems, including forced and child labour, as well as poor working conditions, still occur in some countries,” says Schwarzbach.
She highlights that there are numerous agricultural challenges too, such as the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, and the indiscriminate clearing of lands in areas of high biodiversity.
“Poisonous wastes, smoke and noise are all industrial problems, and technical inefficiencies can be economically problematic. All of these issues can be addressed through compliance with the Bonsucro Standard,” says Schwarzbach.
Meanwhile, Bonsucro’s ultimate vision is a sugar cane sector that is sustainable and continuously improving.
The organisation is collaborating with all relevant stakeholders, linking members so that key businesses in the supply chain can help one another ensure a sustainable supply chain.
Bonsucro has also established certification for sugar-cane-derived products, such as molasses, yeast, bagasse and fusel oil, making it the first and only full spectrum certification scheme on the market.
Sugar cane is a growing industry in Africa, particularly in Southern Africa, says Schwarzbach.
“South Africa leads the way, yet other coun- tries, such as Malawi, Tanzania and Swazi-land, have also attracted investment in their sugar cane industries over the past few years,” she says, adding that any growth will, however, bring a multitude of sustainability challenges.
Schwarzbach highlights that, as part of its efforts, Bonsucro is working hard to promote the sustainable production of sugar cane, particularly in Africa, and has hosted a two-day workshop, on March 25 and March 26, which comprised a free full-day training session at the Orion Hotel, in Wartburg, South Africa, where key stakeholders from all over the country gathered.
“We also work with our partner, international organisation dedicated to responsible food production Solidaridad, to provide support for their farmer support programme in Tanzania, Malawi and Swaziland,” she says.
The global multistakeholder nonprofit organisation is dedicated to reducing the environmental and social impact of sugar cane production, while acknowledging the need for economic viability.
Bonsucro links its name to a product or process that has been certified by an independent certification body as complying with the Bonsucro Standard.